North Essex Theatre Guild

 

Adjudication 2009 –2010

 

Full Length Festival

 

Group: Little Waltham Drama Group

Venue: Little Waltham Memorial Hall

Date of Adjudication: 23rd. April 2010

Production: Pack of Lies

Director: Mags Simmonds

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Hugh Whitemore’s skilfully written piece covers a piece of Cold War history which shocked Britain at the time of the Kroger’s arrest and looks at the situation from an intimate and often overlooked perspective, that of the people they befriended. To have built a relationship with people you thought you knew only to have it completely undermined by government forces is devastating and Whitemore captures their dilemma beautifully between wanting to ‘do the right thing’ and yet deceiving their ‘friends. It raises the question of betrayal and who is the most guilty of it? This poignant piece calls for strong performances from all the cast.

 

FRONT OF HOUSE/PUBLICITY            Eileen Metson,  Viv Abrey and Andy Walker

 

We were warmly welcomed to the Memorial Hall and shown to our seats. At the interval we were kindly supplied with refreshments and looked after. Thank you.

 It is one of the smallest venues I have visited, longer than it is wide, giving set designers and directors alike something of a challenge.

I loved the design on the front of the programme and the posters, it really captured the idea of an ordinary suburban house being turned into a watching post. It was also nice to see Mags Simmonds remarks in the programme giving a personal touch to the times the play is set in. It would have been useful for some of the younger members of the audience to have had a bit more contextual detail perhaps using a news article from the time.

 

SET DESIGN                                                                Mike Lee

The design gave the impression of depth and rooms beyond what we could see on the stage. The staircase and hallway at the back of the set were realistic and helpful in creating that illusion. The main acting area was neatly divided in two a living room and a kitchen. I was very aware of the limitations of space and was impressed by the way every inch was purposefully used. Having the window stage right gave the actors a focal point at some of the quieter moments of the play.

Can I also congratulate the group on finding furnishings for the set which were absolutely in period and the set was also thoughtfully ’dressed’. The original paintings also established Barbara’s interest for us well.

 

LIGHTING                                                                              Chris Little

 

This was effective in helping define the acting areas for the cast and neatly supported the moves from kitchen to living room and vice versa. The use of a period lampshade and the harsher fluorescent light in the kitchen also helped the authenticity of the setting. Solo speeches were delivered in focussed areas of light at the front of the stage and really broke down the ‘fourth wall’ for the actors. A supportive design. Cues could have been more timely executed but I do understand the last minute changes that had to be put in place.

 

SOUND                                                              Mike Lee and Chris Little

 

Again this had been carefully constructed and effects arrived absolutely on cue. I also liked the use of music throughout the production and the way it was used to cover the set changes, it enhanced the mood of the play and helped the audience to sustain their focus during the set changes.

 

COSTUMES                                                                           Jane Franzen

 

Some very good touches here with the costumes, I liked the way Julie moved from the schoolgirl to the young woman we saw in the Christmas scene with that lovely skirt and the changes of tie for Stewart indicating different visits. Meanwhile costumes for Helen and Peter really reflected the very clean cut of American clothing as well as the fashionable look of the polo neck shirt for men at that time. Helen had a touch of flamboyant sophistication absolutely in keeping with her personality. Barbara’s outfits caught her more demure and modest demeanour, neat and smart.  Stewart’s suit helped to give him an air of authority while Bob looked less formally dressed and relaxed. The two ‘watchers’ were also nicely differentiated in their dress and Thelma’s crash helmet a real find! Well done.

 

PROPS                                                        Ken Little and June Newman

 

Props were appropriate and looked contemporary, very important in a play set so firmly in one period. Again given the limit on space I thought the Christmas tree was a great compromise and worked well. Some efficient backstage support here for the production.

 

CAST

 

BOB JACKSON                                                          Glyn Jones

 

Glyn has the responsibility in this role of both opening and closing the play so it was important for him to quickly endear himself to the audience. He gave us a wonderfully world-weary Dad at times showing heartfelt paternal exasperation with Julie. In some of the lighter moments of the play Glyn had a good sense of comic timing and his closing speech was moving. 

 

BARBARA JACKSON                                               Victoria Rossiter

 

Victoria caught the more timid and anxious side of her character well which contrasted nicely with her outburst at Thelma later in the play. Her unwillingness to be drawn into the ‘watching’ was clear and yet her friendship with Thelma seemed natural. This is a challenging role as the hurt of betrayal here goes inwards and Barbara fades. Victoria showed Barbara’s ambivalent feelings well.

 

JULIE JACKSON                                                                  Zoe Pearson

 

Here is a young lady to watch. I really liked Zoe’s performance, she caught the liveliness of Julie and her open manner made her sense of betrayal all the worse when it happened. I think I would like to have seen more anger in her reaction rather than just distress.

 

HELEN KROGER                                                         Linda Burrow

 

This is a wonderful role and Linda played it to the full. With this ebullient personality it would have been easy to go ‘over the top’, that didn’t happen.  I particularly liked the way Linda used her voice, nicely insinuating at times, elsewhere openly warm and playful, in the more sombre moments quiet but clear.  This was a very sincere performance, in particular the scenes she had with Julie. Her final speech was very touching.

 

PETER KROGER                                                         Brian Corrie

 

Brian exuded an air of easy confidence in this role and was a very grounded presence providing a nice balance to Helen’s more outgoing personality. He also sustained his accent well and moved very naturally on stage, something that’s not always easy to achieve. A good performance.

 

STEWART                                                                    Martin Final

 

This role requires the actor to move between being the character and the character being the narrator, quite tricky to do well. Looking very much the part of the spymaster in raincoat and hat Martin’s speeches to the audience were clearly delivered. In his conversations with the family Martin did not seem so assured and I would like to have seen something slightly more sinister in his manner especially when delivering information to the family about themselves.

 

THELMA                                                                     Nicola Ayris

 

Nicola gave us an interesting cameo role here in Thelma. She was nicely chatty and down to earth in her scenes with Barbara providing someone for Barbara to fuss over. There was the potential to heighten her reaction to Barbara’s outburst at their presence.

 

SALLY                                                                           Sue Joyce

 

A tiny role but important in establishing for the audience the constant presence of the watchers in the household. Sue gave us a clear impression of a bustling person keen to be on her way.

 

 

 

DIRECTION                                       Mags Simmonds and Karen Wray

 

The play was well blocked and entrances and exits well rehearsed. There was also a strong sense of technical aspects of the show having been thorough. The direction did pick up well on the growing discomfort between Stewart and the Jacksons as well as the tension between the Krogers and the Jacksons really helping the audience to see how they were all betrayed. In the kitchen scenes it would have been helpful for the chairs to be slightly angled so the audience could see more of the actors’ faces. The various telephone calls had been realistically done – something that many actors find tricky to achieve. My one big disappointment was the number of prompts that were needed during the performance as it slows the pace of the play and breaks the concentration of both actors and audience. It was a shame as there were many good aspects of the production reflecting a group that works well together.

 

Thank you for your hospitality and the opportunity to see the show.

 

Best wishes

Maggi Fisher.